Anonymity’s Role in Storytelling: How Whisper is Becoming a Dominant Force Online



This event took place at Social Media Week in Los Angeles. Sign up for SMW Insider to access the full video of this event and 50+ other #SMWLA sessions.

“There are few places on the internet with a safer space than Whisper,” states Whisper Co-Founder and CEO Michael Heyward.

Heyward sat down with Social Media Week’s Founder and Executive Director Toby Daniels for a fireside chat to discuss the state of anonymous platforms, the role of human and automated moderation systems, and the keys behind building and sustaining a healthy, authentic, and vibrant community on an anonymous platform.

Brands like Coca Cola and Disney excited about the role that anonymity plays in storytelling. Additionally, Whisper’s unique user generated content is becoming a dominant force on Facebook and around the web. But why?

Heyward answers this when he says, “This is a place where you can be yourself. We’re trying to provide a place where people can be intimate with one another. Healthy relationships are ones where people can tell eachother everything. On Whisper, there’s that kind of stranger on the train phenomenon.”

Some individuals may be concerned about how authenticity and the concept of “being real” play into an anonymous platform, since it can be easy to be untruthful. Heyward addresses this when he says, “If you think about why people make things up, there’s generally some utility around that. Our core competency is that we always stress to be the best in the world at is creating safe spaces. We don’t care that you’re being untruthful, but it’s a proxy for other forms of bad behavior that we don’t like.”

He also includes that Whisper doesn’t have any followers, so users wouldn’t be posting things for the sake of getting likes or attention, which gives less incentive to be inauthentic.

Heyward also mentions the vastness and diversity of the user-created content in the app. “In whisper there’s this massive inventory of thoughts, feelings, and emotions. These tend to be things that do have some kind of stigma attached to them like being a Gay Mormon living in Salt Lake City,” adds Heyward. “We have people talking about every single topic you could possibly imagine.”

For individuals concerned about bullying, which is normally a large issue on anonymous platforms, Heyward responds, “We only allow you to use anonymity as a shield, not a sword. This is a place for you to talk about what’s on your mind and not a place to talk negatively about people.”

He also adds that bullying isn’t strictly limited to an anonymous platform. “Anything can encourage bad behavior. You can pick up a telephone and make a prank phone call. Whisper is like a hammer. It’s a powerful tool. Without hammers, we can’t build temples and schools. You can also kill someone with a hammer. For us, anonymity is just a tool we use to give people a place to be authentic.”

Whisper also recently launched a feature called groups which allow people to create and discover their own communities or groups around different topics. This means that users can connect with people that are thinking about the exact same thing they’re thinking about without being judged based on their identity.

“It may even be something benign, like a group about being on a college campus and never being in a relationship. It allows people to find people who are just like them. It’s something that we’re laser focused on and have been laser focused on for quite some time.”

When asked to describe his approach for building these communities, Heyward responded, “The core feeling you see expressed on Whisper is ‘Am I the only one?’ We want to create more intimacy in the world. We don’t anyone to feel like they’re the only one for anything. We want to make that frictionless. On Whisper, you can be vulnerable without actually being vulnerable.”

As Toby Daniels puts it, “It’s pretty powerful when you think about giving people a voice who previously didn’t have one.”

This event took place at Social Media Week in Los Angeles. Sign up for SMW Insider to access the full video of this event and 50+ other #SMWLA sessions.

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